Performing Arts

Anna Sophie Hedvig

Kjeld Abell (1901-1961)
Premier at the Royal Theater, 1939 Se kort

By Lone Nyhuus, journalist, former dancer and choreographer, 2006

A murderess

We are at an ordinary supper, with an ordinary family in Copenhagen. The aunt from Jutland has come to visit. Carrying her suitcase, hatbox and with her big eyes, she unexpectedly knocked at the door. Apart from this surprise visit, she is quite a predictable person. She is a teacher, and even more tedious than the rest of the family. This is a woman who has never done anything unexpected. Or has she? It transpires, in fact, that she has. In the middle of supper she says that she has killed someone. 

Maybe it is OK? 

The family and guests are shocked: Anna Sophie Hedvig pushed Miss Moeller, the vicious and tyrannical headmistress-to-be down the stairs on purpose. Anna Sophie Hedvig is a murderess!

But the assembly does not agree that the deed was wrong. For Anna Sophie Hedvig defended her own little world. She lifted her hands from their customary place in her lap and acted against the injustice of her world. She risked something - she reacted. Maybe it isn’t all wrong? 

Dangerous neutrality 

Kjeld Abell wrote Anna Sophie Hedvig in 1939 when Denmark was facing World War II. In the years before the war - during the progress of the German Nazis - the Danish government had been neutral - a nicer word for passive, and urged the ordinary Dane to be likewise.
Most Danes followed the government’s request. Apart from the few, who either joined the resistance movement or went to Spain to fight Franco’s regime. These latter were the great heroes. And then there were the Anna Sophie Hedvigs. The everyday heroes and heroines, the ordinary people. From their small world, they only saw glimpses of the big world and its opportunities. That’s exactly what Anna Sophie Hedvig did when she faced Miss Moeller at the top of the stairs. She realised that - like now - she had the chance to change the world, change her life and push the evil Miss Moeller down the stairs. Would you have done the same thing? 

The first performance of Anna Sophie Hedvig on January 1, 1939 at The Royal Theater. Clara Pontoppidan plays Anna Sophie Hedvig and Karin Nellemose in the role of Esther. Photo: Huset Mydtskov. The picture is kindly made available by the Theater Museum in Hofteatret.
Astrid Villaume and Annika Høydal in DR film adaptation by Anna Sophie Hedvig, 1975. 97 min. Directed by Søren Melson. Photo: DR Archive.
Performing Arts

Did you know?

Source: Kulturcentret Assistens

Before Kjeld Abell started writing plays, he worked as a scenographer and painter, among other things. In 1930 and 1931, Kjeld Abell made scenography and costumes for five different ballets by the great Russian ballet master George Balanchine, whom Abell learned to know at the Royal Theater in 1930.

The committee's justification

By The Committee for Performing Arts, 2006

Eight months before the start of the Second World War, the Royal Danish Theatre held the premiere of what has since then stood as Danish theatre’s most significant resistance drama. The realisation that this is a political play comes slowly; dramatist Kjeld Abell is skilled in with his dramatic tools and opens the play with the reassuringly mundane. We join a dinner party for Copenhagen’s middle classes, when the hosts receive an unexpected visit from a distant relative in the form of Anna Sophie Hedvig. She is insignificant teacher from the provinces, who goes on to reveal over coffee that she has killed another person. She has killed the tyrant in her own little world, the evil school headmistress, Mrs Møller. “Should we not defend our little worlds? Is it not these that all together represent a bigger world?” asks Anna Sophie Hedvig, as she, speaking for Abell, rails against the limp Danish passivity in relation to emerging fascism. The strength of the play lies in that it does not immediately reveal its message.

Through its introductory satire and refined use of a storytelling “Russian doll” technique, Abell utilises a genre transition from comedy to theatre whodunit. The humorous appeal coming from his recognisable depiction of the petty concerns of the middle-class – chicken and horseradish or lamb cutlets? – is simply bait on the hook. No sooner have we taken the bait than Abell confronts us with the question that has become no less relevant since the play was written: Are you completely blind to the undemocratic trends in the age that you are living in?

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